In this quote, we see that while Chalmers’ was deeply concerned to alleviate poverty, yet there is a benevolence that is higher still!
“Does it never occur to you, that in a few years this favourite will die—that he will go to the place where neither cold nor hunger will reach him, but that a mighty interest remains, of which, both of us may know the certainty, though neither you nor I can calculate the extent. Your benevolence is too short—it does not shoot far enough a-head—it is like regaling a child with a sweetmeat or a toy, and then abandoning the happy unreflecting infant to exposure. You make the poor old man happy with your crumbs and your fragments, but he is an infant on the mighty range of infinite duration; and will you leave the soul, which has this infinity to go through, to its chance? How comes it that the grave should throw so impenetrable a shroud over the realities of eternity? How comes it that heaven, and hell, and judgment, should be treated as so many nonentities; and that there should be as little real and operative sympathy felt for the soul, which lives for ever, as for the body after it is dead, or for the dust into which it moulders? Eternity is longer than time; the arithmetic, my brethren, is all on our side upon this question; and the wisdom which calculates, and guides itself by calculation, gives its weighty and respectable support to what may be called the benevolence of faith.”
Here is a sermon Thomas Chalmers preached to a benevolent society that sets forth his principles for Christian benevolence. He advocates at once a very practical, thorough-going humanitarianism, steering a course between the pitfalls of merely throwing cash at poverty on the one hand and a this-worldly focus on outward needs (anticipating the Social Gospel?). He was a stalwart evangelical, both ‘practical and pious.’
Again, remember that Chalmers’ sermons are nowhere near as generally accessible as other 19th century preachers such as Spurgeon and Ryle. If you haven’t read or listened to a Chalmers sermon, you may want to read my short intro under the ‘Audio’ tab. But while going through Chalmers can be hard work, it is work well spent!
In the following, Thomas Chalmers writes a letter to a former mathematics professor of his, whom he greatly admired. Evidently, he thought he might be unconverted. It also seems, judging from the way he writes here, that he was pricked in his conscience for having delayed so long to share the Gospel with him. It’s worth noting that only two years later, Chalmers would enter eternity.
Is there someone we know and love, to whom we have a ‘debt’ to settle? Is there someone who ought to be hearing the Gospel from us, and yet we have been slow to do so? Let us then make haste, as Dr. Chalmers did, for the day is coming when no man can work!
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To Professor Duncan.
Edinburgh, 14th December, 1845.
My Dear Sir—I should not have written you on Sabbath, but for the subject on which I mean to address you, and to which I shall confine myself. I have long had the utmost regard for you. There is not a human being whom, without the circle of my relationship, I like nearly so well. But, though affectionate toward you, I have not been faithful. Consider how soon both you and I will be mouldering in our coffins. Heaven grant that we may both share in a blessed resurrection, through our common interest in Him who hath said, ” I am the resurrection and the life,” &c Ever believe me, my dear sir, yours very affectionately and truly,